Lafayette and head coach Fran O’Hanlon have been together a long time. Both have been rewarded for their patience, and it will be good to see both of them again in the NCAA Tournament this year.
Fifteen years after their last appearance in the Big Dance, both are back again this year after Lafayette held off American 65-63 in the Patriot League tourney final on Wednesday. The Leopards will make their first trip to the tourney since 2001 and just their fourth in school history.
A wild year in the Patriot League was capped in appropriately unpredictable fashion, with fourth-seeded Lafayette hosting the 6 seed in the title game. Sophomore guard Nick Lindner was the difference with 25 points in the game, and the Leopards are the lowest seed to ever win the Patriot tourney, doing so after going just 9-9 in league play in the regular season.
O’Hanlon’s third trip to the NCAAs comes in his 20th year at the school. Highly respected as a coach, O’Hanlon bought himself a lot of goodwill at Lafayette with back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids in 1999 and 2000, and he also led the team through a period when it was the last in the Patriot League to award scholarships. Still, there are very few schools in Division I that would’ve had the patience Lafayette did when the Leopards had just one winning season in a span of eight years from 2004-12. The same can be said for O’Hanlon hanging in there for a long time while working from a patent disadvantage.
The hope always is with examples like this that they’ll start a trend of schools realizing that coaches don’t just get dumber as they do the job longer, and hopefully the schools will be a little more patient with them through some tough times. Of course, the reality is that almost certainly won’t happen, so all we can do is enjoy it when it does. Bravo to the school, O’Hanlon and this year’s team.
Conference Tournament Wrap-Up: It was a busy day, albeit one with few key results as far as national implications
- The ACC Tournament got into gear with four games of varying quality. If there was any doubt about North Carolina State’s NCAA Tournament credentials, the Wolfpack should be completely secure now after an 81-70 win over 10th-seeded Pittsburgh. No. 6 Miami stays alive with a 59-49 win over Virginia Tech, fifth-seeded North Carolina ran away from Boston College late for an 81-63 win, and No. 9 Florida State nearly gave away a 20-point lead against Clemson, literally struggling to inbound the ball late before hanging on for a 76-73 win.
- Texas is a team many are watching this week, and the Longhorns avoided a bad loss with a 65-53 win over 10 seed Texas Tech in the Big 12 first round. Also, No. 9 TCU knocked out Kansas State 67-65, continuing the Horned Frogs’ late resurgence. Not sure they’ll get there, but if there were teams that deserved NIT bids as a reward for their season being pretty good and above expectations, the Frogs would qualify.
- From the quarterfinals on, the MAC is one of the very best tournaments this week when it comes to balance, and that was shown Wednesday. No. 8 seed Eastern Michigan bopped 5 seed Bowling Green 73-67 and seventh seed Akron handled No. 6 Western Michigan 58-45.
- Conference USA featured the finish of the day came when 10th-seeded Florida International beat Texas-San Antonio 57-54 after Dennis Mavin hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer. Also, No. 6 Middle Tennessee State edged UNC-Charlotte 63-60, fifth-seeded Western Kentucky topped Marshall 59-45 and 9 seed Rice blew out North Texas 82-54.
- The Pac-12 had a busy day with four first round games. No. 8 California breezed past Washington State 84-59, 12th-seeded USC surprised Arizona State 67-64, 10 seed Colorado knocked out slumping Oregon State 78-71 and Stanford edged Washington 71-69 as Chasson Randle hit the winning three-pointer with 2.4 seconds left.
- Fordham and Duquesne stayed alive in the Atlantic 10, while George Mason and Saint Louis both capped very rough years with a loss. Auburn and South Carolina moved on in the SEC, and both Minnesota and Penn State are into the second round in the Big Ten.
- Marquette and Creighton-seeds nine and 10, respectively-both advanced to the quarterfinals in the Big East, while Seton Hall and DePaul both capped miserable seasons. The Blue Demons finished losing 11 of their last 12; SHU nine of its last 10.
- The Mountain West tourney featured a minor upset with No. 9 Air Force over New Mexico 68-61. Tough, tough year for the Lobos. Seven seed UNLV also blew out Nevada (more below).
- Plenty of scoring in the SWAC, where top two seeds Texas Southern and Alabama State advanced, with TSU easily over Alcorn State 95-74 and Alabama State getting a good challenge from Mississippi Valley State before prevailing 93-81.
- The top two seeds also moved to the semis in the MEAC, where defending champion and top seed North Carolina Central ripped Coppin State 91-43 and 2 seed Norfolk State topped South Carolina State 68-54.
- Finally, the Southland first round saw No. 5 McNeese State nip SE Louisiana 62-60 in overtime and No. 7 New Orleans score a minor upset, defeating Nicholls State 83-73. Congratulations to the Privateers on their first conference tourney win since 2008.
- Nevada let go coach David Carter after the Wolf Pack’s 67-46 loss to UNLV in the Mountain West tourney first round. Carter had a 98-97 record in five years in Reno, including losing overall records in each of the school’s first three years in the MWC. Also, we’ll continue to track this as the changes continue: you know that fable about how so many coaches jump from school to school for better jobs? So far, we have five Division I job openings. All five of the previous coaches at those positions were fired. (For a list of all of this year’s coaching changes click here.)
Today’s Menu: Very busy day, as every conference tourney left is now in action
- ACC: North Carolina and Louisville meet in a quarterfinal game. Before the season, many might’ve guessed that to be the championship game.
- Big East: St. John’s and Providence is the best quarterfinal game. Watch the Xavier-Butler game, too.
- Big Ten: Illinois can’t afford a loss to Michigan. Ditto for Indiana against Northwestern.
- Big 12: West Virginia and Baylor tangle in a fantastic quarterfinal.
- Atlantic 10: VCU slipped into the first round of this event and has to take on Fordham.
- SEC: Texas A&M faces a nearly must-win game against Auburn. The same goes for Mississippi against South Carolina.
- The Big Sky tourney gets going with four quarterfinals, with Montana the surprising top seed and taking on Weber State.
- The Big West tourney starts with top seed UC Davis taking on Cal State-Northridge, UC Santa Barbara as the 2 seed against defending champion Cal Poly, plus an outstanding 4/5 game with Long Beach State and Hawaii. Another wide-open tournament.
- Mountain West: Boise State is the top seed and just would not want to slip up against Air Force. Watch out for the winner of the Wyoming-Utah State quarterfinal.
- AAC: Connecticut starts its journey with a game against pesky South Florida.
- Conference USA tourney continues. Interesting team to watch: Old Dominion, which could still slide in as an at-large to the NCAAs.
- Also, the day includes the remainder of the MEAC and SWAC quarterfinals, plus the start of the Sun Belt and WAC tourneys.
Have a great Thursday.